Walking two hours daily for a free mealHundreds of families in the Capital are struggling to manage two square meals after they lost their means of livelihood.
It is noon on Sunday at the Bagmati corridor road just opposite the UN Park near Thapathali. Wiping the sweat off his neck with a handkerchief, Kashi Tamang, 10, struggles to keep pace with his mother Mina, who, all drenched in sweat, is walking a few steps ahead clutching her two-year-old son. To their right the Bagmati River flows emitting a foul smell.
Walking alongside them are Saraswati Thami, 43, with her two children, and three other families.
When the Post met them, they were returning to their rented rooms at Balkumari after eating a free meal at 11 am at Thapathali.
“Earlier we all were tired and hungry. Now our stomachs are full but it’s really hard to walk carrying a baby on this hot summer day,” said Mina.
They have been coming here for nearly two months now, come rain or shine.
“If free meals were not provided we would have died of hunger,” said Mina, 37. Her husband and the eldest son chose to stay home.
“I think they had whatever was left of the beaten rice, and water,” said Tamang.
The Tamangs are originally from Makawanpur and have been living in Kathmandu for nearly a decade. Both the husband and wife are daily wage workers and jobless for over two months now.
Thami’s husband worked as mason and he too is jobless since the imposition of the prohibitory orders in April.
“We have no food at our rented room so we come here everyday. But it’s a long walk from Balkumari to Thapathali and back, and it’s especially difficult for the kids,” said Thami. Every day these families walk about two hours for the meal.
After losing their livelihoods to the Covid-19 lockdown, Tamang and Thami owe their landlords three and two months of rent respectively. Tamang owes her landlord Rs 12,000 and Thami Rs 8,000.
“The landlord keeps asking for rent so I try to avoid him,” said Thami, who is originally from Hetauda and has been living in Lalitpur for the past 15 years.
They said this year’s lockdown has been more difficult because unlike last year they haven’t come across any organization distributing relief packets.
“At Thapathali, the food is good. They give us rice, pulse, curry and pickle,” said Thami.
There are hundreds of poor working class families in the capital who are struggling to manage two square meals after they lost their means of livelihood due to the prohibitory orders.
Bimal Panta, chairperson of Hamro Team, a charity that has been providing free meals daily at Thapathali for the past one year, said more women and children have been coming to them for food over the past few weeks. Panta’s team feeds over 250 people every day.
During last year’s lockdown, many local units had distributed relief items to daily wage workers. For example the Kathmandu Metropolitan City had distributed food relief worth Rs 10.4 million to the poor from all 32 wards. The City had issued funds between Rs200,000 to Rs400,000 based on the size of the population of the wards.
Similarly the Lalitpur Metropolitan City had also distributed relief items. But this year both the cities have no plan to distribute relief packets.
An assessment by the United Nations Development Programme last year had found that 60 percent of the employees in the micro and small businesses had lost their jobs while they saw a fall of 95 percent in average monthly income during the lockdown. The crisis has affected women, especially from lower income groups, differently than men. Twenty-eight percent men lost their jobs during the lockdown, compared to 41 percent females, the report says.
On Wednesday the country reported 3,229 new cases of Covid-19 with 81 Covid-19-related fatalities. Meanwhile, the Kathmandu Valley recorded 915 new infections in the past 24 hours. Of these, 679 cases were confirmed in Kathmandu, 151 in Lalitpur and 85 in Bhaktapur.
Meanwhile, Mina said she fears hunger more than the coronavirus. “That’s why we are taking the risk of venturing out every day for a meal.”